One of the most bitterly contested judicial races in Shelby County's electoral history was a three-cornered race for an open Criminal Court judgeship in 1998. Two of the contestants, defense lawyer Paula Skahan and Assistant District Attorney Phyllis Gardner, had been on opposing sides of one of the watershed legal controversies of the late 20th century -- focused on the prosecution of defendants charged with child molestation and Satanist practices at a local child-care center.
The legal case ended with mixed verdicts -- all charges ultimately being dismissed on a mixture of evidentiary and technical grounds. But animosities remained, some resurfacing among supporters of Skahan and Gardner in the 1998 race, which was won ultimately by a third candidate, current judge J.C. McLin.
Skip to this week in the chambers of the Shelby County Commission when a beaming Gardner stood up to receive what amounted to unanimous approval by the commissioners for appointment to a General Sessions civil-court seat vacated suddenly by former judge Bill Hackett.
Gardner, who between 1998 and now had spent a stint doing liaison work with the civil division of General Sessions Court, had not only convinced the 13 commissioners of her merit, she came with backing from former opponent Skahan and other participants in the ancient controversy that had been so divisive for so long.
Phyllis Gardner is a pleasant woman with a generous spirit and a dedicated following among victims'-rights advocates. Her ability to transcend an old quarrel and win over adversaries may be of actual symbolic value to her and her court as she moves into a position of jurisdiction over an entirely new legal province.
And the circumstances of her selection suggest that not only time but the active presence of good will and a common purpose can heal old wounds. That possibility happens to be at the heart of a socially responsible judicial system. We wish Judge Gardner well.
After two impassioned presentations to a local Republican women's group this week by Shelby County School Board president David Pickler and Germantown mayor Sharon Goldsworthy, it is obvious that we are not going to go gentle into a solution of the current controversy over proposed city-county consolidation.
Pickler had a number of charts at his disposal, all certifying the fact of current excellence in the Shelby County school system, all implicitly concerned with the weakening of standards if any sort of combination with the Memphis school system should occur, and all supportive of Pickler's advocacy of special-school-district status for suburban and outlying Shelby County, making the current county district an even more distinct entity than it already is.
For her part, Goldsworthy discounted or denied the alleged advantages, efficiencies, and cost reductions of consolidation -- even with the city and county school systems exempted from the process. Fair enough, but she may have come near the edge of rhetorical correctness -- or even gone over it -- when she argued further that Memphis mayor Willie Herenton, the chief proponent of consolidation at the moment, was pursuing a "personal agenda" by devising a means whereby, as she saw it, he could aggrandize his own future power within a metro form of government.
That not only was too personal, it begged the question of whether Goldsworthy could be accused of a similar motive in opposing a governmental change that could, hypothetically, abolish her own power.
We choose to credit both mayors with a more universal sense than that and, with full foreknowledge that future verbal excesses will occur on both sides of the argument, request all the same that the argument be conducted in a means befitting a civil matter of such importance to all our futures.